Guide to RTI: Ask the right queries to obtain information you seek

The RTI is one of the most powerful tools and an essential democratic right of every Indian citizen. A handy guide takes you through the steps to file an effective guide

The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) that came into force eight years back has proven to be one of the most powerful tools put to use by every Indian—big and small—to obtain information that was all along denied under the garb of ‘official secrecy’. Thanks to the benefits of the RTI, many of India’s biggest scams and scandals are now exposed.

Deepak Sandhu, chief information commissioner (CIC), very rightly says, “RTI is a game changer. It has democratised information to the citizen’s advantage. The citizen is central in the Act. Other countries offer freedom of information while our legislation recognises it as a right.”
 

Here are a few tips to make effective use, to extract the most appropriate response, and minimise the possibilities of rejection on frivolous grounds.

  1. The RTI Act entitles you to obtain response by way of information within 30 days.
     
  2. Remember, it is the basic information that is being sought and not hows, whys and who’s of any matters.
     
  3. Information under the Act can be sought from central, state and local authorities, parliament and state legislatures, judiciary, police, security forces, public sector undertakings and bodies substantially financed by the state.
     
  4. You need to consider deeply about the precise nature of the information required to enable you to frame your query in English, Hindi or the state language very concisely in a few words.  Do not go on rambling explanations or suggestions or attempt vague roving enquiries.
     
  5. The RTI should never be used to settle scores or to target or harass any one individual or department. For instance: “Maine uske oopar RTI mara; ab ayega maza!”
     
  6. It is important that the information elicited should not be merely filed away. It ought to be taken forward effectively to get matters moving in the right direction and/or to set right systemic flaws, if any.  Possibly, if necessary, it can be put to use in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at a High Court.
     
  7. You can seek information pertaining to records, documents, memos, mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, images or any computer generated matter, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples models or electronic data.
     
  8. Under Section 4 of the RTI Act, you are empowered to visit, by prior appointment, the office concerned to inspect records and official documents and obtain xerox copies on payment of copying charges at actuals.  To enable you to do so, you are to be provided suitable table and sitting space within the office premises to carry out your verification/inspection exercise to flag the documents that need to be copied. For instance, authorities like the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) prefer Section 4 approach for the simple reason that it is you, who will flag only the documents/information required and that relieves them of the burden of hunting through a mass of bureaucratic red taped files and also the task of drafting a reply that has to be approved and finally signed, sealed to be sent to you within the mandated 30 days of receipt of your application.
     
  9. The Act also provides for inspection of government works and to take samples from sites.
     
  10. Section 6 of the Act has laid down a simple form that that can be copied on plain paper and signed by the applicant who has to be an individual and not any organisation.

  1. The application fee of Rs10 can be paid either in cash across the counter. Court fees stamp can also be affixed in the case of BMC and Maharashtra State or Demand Draft or Pay order in favour of the Accounts officer of the concerned department.
  2. However, a more convenient mode would be to obtain a Postal Order for Rs10, attach it to the application in duplicate and hand it in the RTI counter in any Head Post Office (PO). The PO counter clerk will retain the two copies and return duly stamped the third copy with the counterfoil of the postal order. The PO then despatches the application to the department concerned with a copy to you.

(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant turned activist.)

  • Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

    User

    COMMENTS

    vishu

    3 months ago

    If RTI activist pays Rs. 100/- instead of Rs. 10/- for sought information and concerned documents, will the application consider or not, if yes please send me RTI section of the same. So that I clarify to concerned department who made the objection for sending the information only said reason.

    Monali Swain

    1 year ago

    My father retired from army on 29 feb 2016 ,he was granted pension and other benefits as per 6th cpc consequent to implemention of 7th cpc ,effective date 1st jan 2016 his pay has been revised. But neither revised pension nor consequential benefits have been paid so far. RTI application to provide information regarding revised pension,gratuity,commutation leave encashment and reason for delay has not been entertained by PIO . Please confirm whether the above information can be obtained through RTI .

    REPLY

    Shrikrishna Kachave

    In Reply to Monali Swain 1 year ago

    Ma'am, as I said above, the information mentioned by you can be obtained using RTI. However if in case, the PIO has either refused/rejected you the information, please make a First Appeal to FAA of same department. Secondly, the PIO can't provide you any reason for the delay since this doesn't form a part of records.
    Thus, I would be happy to help you draft the RTI application/appeal further. In this case, you could e-mail me the details of this matter directly on '[email protected]'. Thanks!

    Shrikrishna Kachave

    In Reply to Monali Swain 1 year ago

    This is really sad to know sir. Yes, the above information mentioned by you can be obtained using RTI. To help you with its procedure and any other assistance in case you need, I would pls request you to mail your above query in details to '[email protected]'.
    Our details can be found here: http://foundation.moneylife.in/

    Rakesh Kumar Bose

    2 years ago

    Who is the appellate authority to advice regarding land dispute under RTI,Act,2005?

    parshant charaya

    2 years ago

    Can I ask from the department about the posting creation for new joining and about the marks obtained by the candidate in departmental exams

    n.l.narasimham

    4 years ago

    one person to purchase our house he gave 5,00,000 and take receipt for that and he has not give xerox copy of that receipt since 9 months he is not purchasing our house and saying i have given 50,00,000 and i have agreement but he does not have agreement under rti can we ask xerox of that receipt
    plese suggest us

    g s raveendranath

    5 years ago

    sir,
    physical verification of departmental material comes under rti act 2005

    ygmkrishna

    6 years ago

    Can a member of Employees Coop. Credit & Thrift Society want the details of membership particulars of a state under RTI ACT. Recently Supreme court gave a verdict that Coop. societies will not come under RTI Act. Kindly send your views to [email protected]. Thanking you.

    Rejection of information under RTI quite common except in Information commission reports

    Public Information Officers -PIOs not performing their duty of providing information is a frequent experience of an RTI activist

    Early this week, I once again experienced rejection, or rather telling of a brazen lie regarding the controversial water cut in Pune that was stalled recently after the public hue and cry. The decision to cut water supply was taken in a meeting of the Canal Committee despite 100% water levels in three out of four dams (that supply water to Pune). When I went for inspection of files in the water supply department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), I was told by a senior engineer who is also an appellate authority that no minutes of meeting exist as it was a verbal discussion.
     

    I was shocked to learn that a vital issue like water supply is casually decided over a chat between municipal authorities and ministers Ajit Pawar and Harshavardhan Patil who are part of the Canal Committee meeting. I then decided to inspect the same files in the irrigation department and immediately got a copy of the minutes of the Canal Committee meeting. While the documents reveal PMC’s utter negligence in ensuring that Pune does not have water cuts post-good monsoons, it was shocking that a senior engineer of PMC should lie about the non-existence of these documents.
     

    Other activists too have had similar experiences. As per the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI)’s latest annual report on status of RTI use in India (based on the annual reports of 10 information commissions), only 10% of RTI queries are rejected. Noted RTI activist, Maj Gen SCN Jatar (retd.) counters, “My experience with applications sent by me and by a number of citizens, who come to us for advice, is that the information, which is denied is generally the critical one. Giving you an example, I asked for 'consent' under the Air and Water Acts for municipal solid waste processing plants, both from the municipal corporation and from the pollution control board. Both gave me 'authorisation' under the MSW (Handling & Management) Rules, 2000 and not 'consent'. This critical information is essential because the plants are creating havoc in polluting the ground water and the ambient air. This is adversely affecting the health of the citizens.”
     

    “Of course, we go in for an appeal. The Appellate Authority directs that the information be given. It is again denied. Hence, we put in a second appeal. Currently, the information commissioner is hearing second appeals of May 2011 vintage. Even after the hearing, it takes almost six months to issue orders. The PIO is generally not fined and if fined, the amount is rarely deducted from the person's salary.  We want information, which may still be far away.  Hence, do we wait for more than three years to get a decision in such critical and straight forward matters? In spite of orders for preference to senior citizens, it is generally not accorded,” he said.
     

    RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar too agrees. He said, “I am also of the view that public authorities are filing false compliance reports. Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC) has also said that 96% RTI applicants get desired information—in fact, it is the other way round.’’
     

    Venkatesh Nayak, who has compiled the report for CHRI clarifies that, “We have mentioned in a prominent place that ‘if the figures published in the Annual Reports are to be believed’. I have no way of finding out if the figures are accurate, hence the cautionary phrase. This report sets the ground for undertaking such inquiries. As these reports are to be tabled in the respective legislatures one would presume that the SICs and Central Information Commission (CIC) are submitting true facts as collected from the public authorities. It is absolutely crucial to cross check the claims about disposals and rejections. Our report should be used as a basis to question the reports of ICs as no such attempt has been made till date.’’
     

    Excerpts from the CHRI’s latest annual report of RTI use in India:
     

    Proportion of Rejections at the RTI Application Stage
     

    Anecdotal evidence across the country has made many civil society actors and activists believe that rejection of request is the norm in many public authorities and access to information is an exception, which they believe amounts to reversing the objectives of both RTI laws. However, if the data published in the Annual Reports of Information Commissions covered by this study is to be believed, only a small proportion of the total number of requests is rejected at the application stage.

     

    In States with smaller populations like Meghalaya and Mizoram less than 1% rejection was reported at the RTI application stage.

     

      In Karnataka where public authorities received close to 2.93 lakh (293,000) requests the proportion of rejections was a mere 0.30%.

     

      Some of the highest proportions of rejections were observed in the context of public authorities under the Central Government (8.14%) and those under the State Government of Maharashtra (7.2%) both of which received more than 6.5 lakh (650,000).

     

      Although the macro picture in all governments covered by this study indicates rejection of not more than 10% of the total number of RTI applications received, some of the public authorities had very high rates of rejection. For example, the rejection rate at the offices of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Directorate General of Safeguards was 100%. The offices of the Director General, Income Tax (Investigation) based in Ahmedabad (86.8%), Jaipur (71.6%), Kolkata (66.7%) and New Delhi (59.5%) also had a very high rejection rate.
     

      The Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission has reported that while RTI applications received by public authorities in that State grew phenomenally, the rejection rate dropped from 9% (2009-10) to 4% (2010-11) and stood at 1.37% for the last reporting year (2011-12).
     

      Only the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have provided in their Annual Reports, clause-wise break up [Sections 8(1)(a) to (j), 9 and 24] of the number of times the exemptions were invoked by public authorities to reject information requests at the application stage.

     

      The largest number of rejections of RTI applications (15,279) in public authorities under Central Government occurred on the grounds of protecting personal privacy [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(j)]. In Andhra Pradesh the exemptions pertaining to contempt of court and prohibition on the disclosure of information by courts was invoked most frequently (131 times) to reject RTI applications [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(b)]. Public authorities in Karnataka are said to have invoked most frequently (101 times) the exemption relating to police investigation, arrests and criminal trials [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(h)].

     

    •  More than 4,000 RTI applications are said to have been rejected because they

    pertained to the 25 intelligence and security organisations notified by the Central

    Government under Section 24 of the Central RTI Act.


    Recommendations:
     

    •  Information Commissions must pay special attention to public authorities, where rejection rates are very high to see if the exemption provisions and public interest override clauses contained in Section 8 are being invoked by the public information officers or the first appellate authorities with due application of mind. Fewer the number of rejections, lesser will be the number of appeals and complaints.

     

    •  All Information Commissions must collect and publish data about the number of times exemption clauses are invoked by public authorities to reject RTI applications as this is a statutory requirement.

     

    •  Information Commissions must collect and publish data about the rejection of RTI applications by organisations notified under Section 24 of the Central RTI Act and Section 21 of the J&K RTI Act in keeping with the statutory mandate of accounting for all instances of rejection of requests by public authorities.

     

    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice, in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)

  • Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

    User

    COMMENTS

    Ritik

    1 year ago

    Sir I had to take a report of my FIR how I would be fill application to RTI by online

    Pravin

    1 year ago

    I have a question and i am sure one of you all would answer my question. I had and RTI first appeal hearing with the Appellate officer, It was government Department. The officer could not respond to all my appeal query. He took my signature on one paper for confirmation of attendance, but did not give me order/proceedings of the hearing. His assistant told me that it would be emailed to me. I sent them the reminder the next day by email,however so far 2 days passed but no email is received. Now, my question is, Is it necessary for the Appellate officer to issue order in respect of the hearing and give copy to the appellant? In one of the hearing given to me in one of the govt department i was given copy of order in 15 minutes after hearing was over. So please respond to my query, thanks in advance.

    MOHAN

    6 years ago

    RTI Act a failure?

    HEMA SAMPAT

    6 years ago

    INDIRECT WAYS OF REJECTING AN APPLICATION USED BY PIO.
    If a file is not available as per PIO ,during the hearing, the IC asks him to lodge a FIR & give a copy to the applicant & the appeal is closed by the IC.When such orders are given and the appeal mater is closed by IC,it serves no purpose.Instead of the information the applicant has to accept the copy of the FIR GIVEN BY THE pio.His purpose is not served.This is as good as rejection of the application.The pio is not penalised & the applicant does not get the information at all.The IC orders the PIO to give whatever is available & the PIO replies that the required file is not available.There ends the matter.The applicant's grievance is not solved or cleared.It has become a stsndard reply 'file not available'which the PIO uses as an indirect tool for not parting with the information & rejecting the application. The PIO gives false report & statements that the information is given and that is also accepted .Mostly the applicant is asked by IC to inspect the files available with the PIO.Intelligent PIO shows the irrelevant files or shows files with relevant documents missing.These are indirect ways of rejection of application adopted by INFORMATION GIVERS.

    REPLY

    Pravin

    In Reply to HEMA SAMPAT 1 year ago

    Hello, thanks for quick response. But this does not answer my query. My question was "Now, my question is, Is it necessary for the Appellate officer to issue order in respect of the hearing and give copy to the appellant?"

    Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo

    6 years ago

    When I had asked a query to NCDRC regarding my letter, as to when was received it, who received it and what action was taken on it. The reply was it was received by concerned person and concerned action was taken. What should be done in such cases.

    The saga of ignorance of Section 4 of RTI Act continues in food supply department

    At Pune’s headquarters of the food supply department, the tehsildar is ignorant, even arrogant about proactive disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act

    Since the last one week, I have been following up with the Food Supply office of the Pune district collectorate to gather information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. I am seeking information on the number of shopkeepers, in two particular zones, where women have complained that they have not been getting their rightful food grains, sugar and kerosene under the Public Distribution System (PDS) scheme, since several months and years.
     

    While the newly launched Food Security Bill (FSB) has already run into controversy with a leading TV news channel portraying how wheat under this scheme is already being diverted into the open market in Delhi. The PDS scam has been going on brazenly for last several decades. Since no political leader or officer at any level bothers to address this issue, the PDS scam is a perennial news story for a journalist and perennial campaign for an activist.
     

    Last week, the public information officer (PIO) of one of the zones of the food supply office in Pune was totally ignorant about Section 4 of the RTI Act itself. As mentioned in my last week’s column, she relented to give information after I educated her on Section 4. I had asked for information between 1 January 2012 and 30 September 2013, month wise, of the supply of wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to the shopkeepers that fall under her zone.
     

    However, the next day, when I went to collect the information, she proudly said that she had promptly bought a book of the RTI Act, which I appreciated. However, her next statement was that, “You have wrongly said you can get information instantly under Section 4. It is only under Section 7 that you can get information in 48 hours.’’ So, another round of explanation had to be done.”
     

    I told her that the information I require comes under 11, 12, 13 sub-sections of the Section 4 of RTI Act. These states:
     

    (xi) the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all pans, proposed expenditures and reports o disbursements made;
     

    (xii) the manner of execution of subsidy,
     

    (xiii) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it. She nodded in agreement.
     

    The issue of my inspecting files under Sec 4 of the RTI Act, triggered off last fortnight after some women in a chawl in Bhavani Peth expressed their agony. However, on a visit to another chawl in Yerawada, I found that the women there too had a similar complaint. Hence, I decided to gather information of supply to all the eight zones from the food supply headquarters.
     

    The PIO there asked me to meet the Tehsildar who heads the department. When I told her what I wanted, she got aggressive and said this information is not available here and that I would have to visit each of the eight zones to get it. I argued that being the headquarters, information on supplies to shopkeepers in all eight zones, must be made available here itself. In fact, it should have been posted on the website www.pune.gov.in . In any case, even if it is on the website, it is mandatory for the public authority to provide the information if a citizen visits it and demands it in the form of hard copies. She argued, “Yes, of course, it is all there on the website’’ and summoned the PIO to her cabin. The PIO muttered that it is in some other website and gave me the link – Egrains.nic.in/sinc. I checked the website but it does not seem a relevant one.
     

    She then continued that it is not possible to keep such vast information in her office. I said it is her duty to upload it in the public domain. I gave her an example that if I require information about accidents from 10 different police stations under RTI, then I should get it at the headquarters of the traffic department and I, as a citizen, do not have to run from one police station to another. When she tried to be adamant despite my explanation, I told her that I would file a complaint with the State Information Commissioner in Pune as this amounts to denying information. She said OK to prove her point but then relented and asked the PIO to give the entire information. I would be collecting the documents on Thursday. Here too, the PIO insisted on Rs10 court fee stamp with a request letter for the information. I again had to explain to him that you need the court fee stamp only if you ask information under Section 6. He smiled.
     

    My point is, even after eight years of the RTI Act, should a citizen be fighting it out to get his or her rightful information under Section 4 of the RTI Act? If this is the treatment given to a seasoned journalist/activist, then one can imagine what a common person is going through. The reason for this personal narration is to inspire citizens to visit offices to get the information they need and not be cowed down by excuses or arrogance of officers. Please read Section 4 carefully; if required take a printout of it when you visit the office. Share your experiences with Moneylife. I would be happy to answer your difficulties.

     

    (Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)

  • Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

    User

    COMMENTS

    Monali Swain

    1 year ago

    Under RTI ACT 2005 whether i can request to PIO to provide information which required to be calculated as per revised rate of pay scale

    tanu mehta

    6 years ago

    Vinita, I wonder why the Central and State Government do not train their officers and staff on RTI. In fact, when was the last training done, on any public legislation, by the Government? All our laws are relegated to the dust because the implementers have no over-view, no training and no explanation of why this law was brought in. I believe the HRD Ministry ought to be held responsible.

    nagesh kini

    6 years ago

    Vinita - Leave alone the tesildar's office in Pune. In the SEBI HQ at Mumbai a GM level office appeared ignorant of the Sec.4 of RTI, rather than face a Money Life team of Aditya and me who went by prior appointment, he quietly left the room and sent a junior personal assistant to deal with us,she was equally ignorant!

    sohan modak

    6 years ago

    Yes, the pds system is being run down by baboos in cahoots with agri fat cats.

    Farize

    6 years ago

    Dear Vinita. I have read your article and truly appreciate the had work you are putting into this. My question would be,
    1. are the persons in senior positions eg tehsildate and PIO truy educated to hold such positions? My opinion from your article is that they appear to be incompetent.
    2. How can such ordeals be resolved?

    We are listening!

    Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.
      Loading...
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email

    BUY NOW

    online financial advisory
    Pathbreakers
    Pathbreakers 1 & Pathbreakers 2 contain deep insights, unknown facts and captivating events in the life of 51 top achievers, in their own words.
    online financia advisory
    The Scam
    24 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
    Moneylife Online Magazine
    Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
    financial magazines online
    Stockletters in 3 Flavours
    Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
    financial magazines in india
    MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
    (Includes Moneylife Online Magazine)
    FREE: Your Complete Family Record Book
    Keep all the Personal and Financial Details of You & Your Family. In One Place So That`s Its Easy for Anyone to Find Anytime
    We promise not to share your email id with anyone